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Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Dunkirk survivors' final reunion
Veterans gather around the oldest surviving boat
Survivors of the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation were reunited on Monday to commemorate their remarkable escape from Hitler's armed forces.

Over 50 members of the Dunkirk Veterans Association gathered at London's Imperial War Museum to mark the 60th anniversary of the evacuation - and their last ever reunion.

The final annual parade of Dunkirk veterans will take place in France next month, but members vowed to continue meeting for social events.

"It is very, very sad that the association will no longer exist, but it is getting very difficult to run it as we are all getting on a bit. I am a youngster compared to some," said 74-year-old Joe Barnes from Essex, who was the youngest person involved in Dunkirk.


I went out there as a boy and came back a man

Dunkirk veteran Joe Barnes

He recalled how, aged just 14, he secretly stowed himself in a ship's hold as it set sail for France.

"I went out there as a boy and came back a man," said Mr Barnes, who left the Navy in 1947 to work as a London bus driver for 43 years.

All the men who gathered in London, many with their families, had amazing stories to tell about their part in the operation.

The World War II evacuation involved both naval and civilian ships, which rescued 338,000 Allied troops stranded along Dunkirk's beaches as the Germans continued their advances.

The oldest veteran, 99-year-old William Stone from Watlington, Oxfordshire, was a Royal Navy chief petty officer who went back to Dunkirk five times during the evacuation.

"A German torpedo fired at us, thinking we were a destroyer, but we were a mine sweeper.

"I was pretty lucky that day - it missed us," he said.

Special presentation

The veterans gathered around the smallest surviving boat known to have taken part in the evacuation, the Tamzine, which is now on display at the museum.

The 15ft wooden fishing boat was built in 1937 by Leonard Cotton Brockman of Margate, Kent.

His 10-year-old great-great granddaughter, who was named after the boat, attended the ceremony.

Each veteran was presented with a 10-volume set of The Second World War, a collection of front-line accounts, by publishers Trident Press International.

Prince Charles will take the salute of the veterans' final last march past on 4 June in France.

Jim Horton, general secretary of the association, said: "We wanted to go out on a high, and you can't get much more high than having the pilgrimage with the future king coming to inspect us. We are very honoured."

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The BBC's Sanchia Berg
"A national symbol of both British determination and the ability to see an apparent defeat as a triumph"
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15 May 00 | UK
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